June 12, 2007
Happy Loving Day

It was forty years ago today that the laws against interracial marriage were thrown out by the US Supreme Court in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.

While the rest of the Jim Crow South struggled to divide the races in the '50s, blacks and whites in tiny Central Point, Va. had long been intertwined.

And often, they were intimate, said Edward Clarke, who grew up in the town.

It was in this setting that a skinny 11-year-old girl nicknamed "Bean" met a 17-year-old boy who was a family friend, according to Phyl Newbeck, a Vermont author who detailed the case in the 2004 book, Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers.

The friendship led to courtship -- but their relationship took an abrupt turn when Mildred, 18, became pregnant.

"We're talking the early '50s, when an illegitimate child was ... a stigma," Newbeck said. "I don't think Richard wanted her to have to bear that."

They drove some 80 miles to Washington, D.C., in 1958, married, and returned to Central Point to start a new life.

Within a month, they were in jail.

It was 1964, and the Lovings had spent the past few years living in exile in Washington after being convicted on charges of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth." Laws banning racially mixed marriages existed in at least 17 states.

The couple had avoided a year in jail by agreeing to a sentence mandating, "both accused leave Caroline County and the state of Virginia at once, and do not return together or at the same time to said county and state for a period of 25 years."

Mildred had written to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union for help returning to their Virginia home.

The Civil Rights Act had passed, and Southern blacks were defying Jim Crow's hold.

Phil Hirschkop, 28, just out of law school, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that laws must treat each citizen equally.

On June 12, 1967, the high court agreed.

Kind of hard to imagine these days, isn't it? More people support interracial marriage these days than believe in heliocentrism, which is a comment on something, though I'm not exactly sure what. The question today, of course, is if someday we'll feel the same way about gay marriage. Will our grandchildren look back and wonder what all the fuss was about? I for one hope so. Be that as it may, I say Happy Loving Day, everyone.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 12, 2007 to National news